Archive for July, 2009
Friday, July 31st, 2009 by LViehl
Since May I’ve been writing in a three-foot by two-foot corner of my bedroom, mainly so we could convert my writing room into a guest room for family and friends who came to visit over the summer. Now that everyone has gone back home, I’m moving back in for the fall, and then I’ll move upstairs to my book room for winter. I like to be mobile, and everything I write with is on wheels or very portable so I can easily move around the house.
But for all intents and purposes, this is my primary writing space:
I chose to keep the room as minimal and utilitarian as possible because I don’t like a lot of clutter around me when I work. The choice of colors (primarily sand and sea glass) are also deliberate; to me they’re muted and soothing while still reminding me of the beach, which is the one place in the world where I always relax.
My computer station is black because it was cheap and so am I. I keep my work area clean at all times; nothing goes on the station except the computer. I face a blank wall, and while I’ve tried hanging things there from time to time I find a blank wall is best (or I end up staring at the stuff on the wall instead of working.) Having my back to the only window in to room is important, too; otherwise it would be too tempting to open the blinds and look outside at the trees and horses and stuff on our neighbor’s property. (My work printer is currently perched on a cardboard box because I can’t find a printer stand small enough to suit me and my abbreviated work space.)
I’ve spent a lot of evenings on this couch editing from a hard copy of whatever new material I wrote that day. The quilt is for the floor, sometimes I like to throw all the pillows down and stretch out while I review and mark pages (again, just like at the beach.) The couch also folds out into a queen-size bed, which I have slept on when I work late so I don’t disturb anyone else in the house.
This is actually a spare folding sewing table I have that I can pull out and use as a worktable. I also keep a couple of non-writing projects on it (at the moment, two pictures I’m going to frame and a couple of books I’m reading) so I have something to do when I need a break.
This is my reading/worry chair. It’s a bit like a security blanket; when I feel like everything is going straight to hell I sit in it for a few minutes and either read a book or just brood until I work out whatever is bothering me.
It’s not a fancy room, and I really need to hang some pictures and things on the walls I can’t see from the computer station to make it a little more homey. The main thing is that the room works with me instead of against me, and often fades away while I’m writing so I’m not distracted from the work. That makes it the ideal writing space for me.
Do you guys have a favorite writing space at home or elsewhere? How have you arranged it to work better for you? Let us know in comments.
Thursday, July 30th, 2009 by Sasha White
Some authors hate writing short stories. They find it hard to fit a full story in so few pages. Maybe it’s because when I started writing I really had no clue what I was doing, but I thought writing short was easier. So I started out with short stories. The first few ‘stories’ I wrote were around the 1, 000 word mark. Then I bumped up to 3,000, then 5, 000. Then I wrote GYPSY HEART, my first attempt at a novel. I aimed for 75,000, but it ended up being just over 50. I wrote another 20k novella before I wrote my first single title, BOUND.
Sometimes I still find writing short stories easier. Sometimes I find them harder. I’ve learned that it all depends on the story. The most important thing for an author to remember when trying to write short isn’t to keep the word count low…it’s that short stories and novellas are exactly that “Stories”.
Readers love a good story, no matter how long or short, it’s always the story that counts. It’s up to you, as the author, to decide what that story is, and to stick to it when you put pen to paper. (Or fingers to keyboard.)
When writing short you need to keep things simple in your mind. Don’t over think plot, or setting, or so many of the things we obsess over when writing a full length novel. Think the basics of storytelling. All stories need well developed characters, conflict, and resolution.
Here’s some of my thoughts on how to write short.
On Character Development:
Well developed characters can be done in a very quick and short way. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of thinking just because you don’t have room to include a whole back story that you won’t be able to draw a clear and complete picture of your character for your readers.
The backstory for the character should still be done, you’ll need it in your head, even if not on the page. Knowing your characters makes them easier to draw. And you draw them for readers with simple and straight strokes.
Amanda Carrington set down the phone and listened to Emily – her secretary – giggling girlishly in the open-plan area of the office. It was the final straw. The girls irritating simpering was grating in her ear so much that she could barely concentrate. Leaving her cushioned chair, Amanda walked around the large oak desk and stalked to the door of her office. Enough was enough; this was an office, not a pick up joint.
In 75 words this gives the reader a picture of who Amanda Carrington is. The name, the fact that she has a secretary, her reaction to the secretary’s giggles, the oak desk , and finally her ‘pick-up joint’ line. These are all things that are carefully selected to give you an instant image of the character.
Is it a complete image? Not yet. But as the story moves on, we learn a little more through her thoughts and actions. What’s important is that you see it’s possible to do it in a short space, and not to let yourself be intimidated. Don’t let yourself feel any pressure to cram too much in low word counts. Instead, when you go over your first draft (you’ll see about that in a minute) you be selective in what you keep, or include.
When writing short you don’t have the space to tell backstories and explain why the character is the way they are, and readers won’t even notice that you didn’t give them the backstory if you do your job right. Why? Because the characters current thoughts and actions will tell the reader what kind of person they are at the time of the story, and that’s what matters when writing short.
When writing short, it’s my opinion that you need to keep things simple. By that I mean, only one big conflict, plot, or dilemma per story. No sub plots or secondary characters inching forward and maybe trying to steal the spotlight. Figure out what story you want to tell – and tell it.
Now why do I say plot or dilemma? Because the way I think of things is that short stories (10k and under) are about a situation or dilemma, but novellas can have a plot.
My rule is that short stories should never have a secondary story.
Novellas can have a continuing thread, if you are planning a series, or writing a novella to be a between the books treat for readers. Shiloh Walker does this very well. Her Hunter single titles are much more complex, yet she also write novellas as part of the same series/line. They stand alone, but they are also part of a series simply by the association. Make sense?
Another great example is Janet Evanovich. Her Stephanie Plum series is a huge hit, but she only puts out one book a year. But recently she released Visions Of Sugar Plums, Plum Lovin, and PLum Lucky as ‘between the numbers’ books. Those two novellas have very simple storylines with no subplots.
In my mind I think of things like this.
Short stories are like a half hour sitcom. A situation.
Novellas are like the one-hour drama. Not the soap opera or Desperate housewives type that are serials, but more like Law and Order or The Closer or even Angel, Buffy and Firefly. Each show deals with ONE PLOT. These shows also have threads that continue all season, and underlay each episode, but that’s because they are continuing. Make sense?
Novels are like a feature film. The good ones have it all. Action, drama, emotion and resolution.
I write the story not paying attention to word count at all. Just write it, if you need to have the characters back-story in it, and then write it in. If you need to describe them making their coffee and showering and doing every little thing, then do it. Myself, I tend to write short and sweet. Ok maybe not sweet , but you get what I mean. I tend to set the scene, complete with dialogue, and then move on. Yes, I’m always under my word counts.
The point is, write however is natural to you because voice and style are of major importance when it comes to writing short. Your voice and style is what will hook the reader and keep them reading. (But that’s a whole ‘nother subject)
Anyway, Just write it. Then decide what scenes need to be cut to hit your word count. (Or fleshed out) Go over the story and either add description, and action by layering in the treats. Or cutting back-story and trimming the excess and unnecessary.
When writing short always try to remember The story is the cake. The rest is just icing…and as much as we all love icing, too much of it can ruin a good cake.
So…have you ever written a short story? Do you want to?
* * * * *
The BIAM Challenge is over.
First off, Congratulations to Dawn for writing 8900 words for the month of July. You might not think you did a lot, but you did more than me.
Darlene is queen butt kicker for this challenge with a total of 56, 719
And uhmm yeah. I so did not good. me…I’m just under 8k, the funny thing, I’m not upset about it. LOL I really enjoyed the month of just thinking about things and jotting down bits and pieces that I know will eventually become a novel. With no deadline, I’m in no hurry, and I’m finding it a very different process for myself. And I think the end product will rock!
That said, Darlene, as top Butt Kicker of this BIAM Callenge, you win a treat from me. What is it? It’s the book of your choice. Yep, just choose any book you want (for $25 or less) and email me the title and your snail mail address, and I’ll get that book to you.
Wednesday, July 29th, 2009 by LViehl
I got an e-mail from a writer friend who picked up one of my books over the weekend. Evidently she couldn’t resist reading the last page while standing in line to pay for it. Her reaction was, well, classic. It went something like this:
How could you . . . ! I can’t believe . . . ! Arrrrrrrrrgh!
I didn’t resent that my pal read the last page first. I can’t do that myself (to me it’s like opening Christmas presents in July) but I know there are lots of people who do. Since I’m already notorious for often waiting until the very last page to offer a final twist, the temptation is even understandable (in this case the twist is delivered in the final two words of the novel, and it’s a whopper.) Nor did I mind the subsequent wheedling and pleading for an early copy of the next book in the series.
What made me run for the ibuprofen is that I didn’t know that this particular novel was already being sold. It’s not scheduled for release until August 6th, I donated the single early copy my editor sent to me for a charity drive, my author copies haven’t arrived yet, and I haven’t finished putting together the promo I was going to do for it on my author blog in August. That and Mom is going to be calling me any minute to say, “I saw your book at the store today, Lynn. What does a mother have to do? Go and buy a copy so she can read it?”
Fortunately Genreality had some extra post room this week, and Sasha was kind enough to let me use today’s space for some hurried, blantant self-promo, so without further whining, here’s an excerpt from my upcoming, I mean, current release, Crystal Healer:
(To set up the scene: Jarn, a bioengineered immortal physician, and her husband Duncan Reever have traveled with their alien friends to the remote planet of oKiaf to investigate why the primitive world has never been attacked by the malignant black crystal infecting the other inhabited worlds in the galaxy. While on planet, Jarn meets for the first time an alien female who is an old friend of Reever’s — a very good friend, as it turns out . . .)
As soon as we were alone, the Takgiba began stripping out of her clothing, revealing more black-and-white fur and a long, thin tail that moved as languidly as Uorwlan did.
“Secure the inside of the entry hide, will you, Jarn?” the Takgiba asked. “The natives won’t intrude on us, but they’ve been known to peek.”
I saw she intended to remove all of her garments, and turned to Reever. “You never let me sleep naked.”
He shook his head at me slightly before addressing the Takgiba. “Uorwlan, my wife and I are exclusive to each other. We will not have sex with you.”
“What?” The feline gave him a look almost as astonished as my own.
“She thinks she can couple with us?” I said, almost at the same time.
“How else am I to get warm?” Uorwlan gave me a hateful look. “So this is what you’ve done to him? Turned him into a Jorenian?”
I didn’t like that, especially as being exclusive had been Reever’s idea from the beginning. “Terrans are usually monogamous,” I informed her. “When I agreed to become his wife, I also accepted his ways.”
“That Terran” —Uorwlan pointed to Reever— “was never monogamous. Even when he shared my bed. In fact, he went through females almost as quickly as he did blades.”
I had forced myself to accept that Reever had given his love to Cherijo before me. Now it would seem a small army of females had had him even before her.
She studied my expression. “He didn’t mention that, did he? Ah, well, they never do. All males are seeders, you know, and they’re never truly happy unless they can spread it around. Did he ever tell you about the slave harem we liberated from the pleasure colony on Anigfel? I ended up putting guards on our cabin so he could get a few hours’ sleep. You wouldn’t believe what I had to do to have him to myself once a week.”
“What my husband did with you or anyone else in his past is irrelevant to me.” Anger made my voice cold. “All you need to know is that you can’t have him now.”
“Is that what you think, little sister?” She bared her teeth and tugged a blade out of her belt. “Duncan saved my life, and I’m in his debt. He can ask anything of me, and I will give it to him.” She tossed the dagger from one set of claws to the other. “So if he wants a place in my bed, on my ship, or anywhere else, it’s his.”
I pulled one of my own blades and held it ready. “Not anymore.”
“Perhaps I should go and sleep with Qonja and Hawk,” Reever said as he stepped between us and with two blurred motions took the blades from our hands. He looked at Uorwlan. “You are my friend, but Jarn is my wife, and I love her. You will respect that and our bond.” He turned to me. “And you, Wife. You will calm down and not provoke Uorwlan any further.”
“Provoke her?” I echoed, outraged. “She drew the first blade. You wish me to stand by the next time she loses her temper and let her stab me?”
Reever’s eyes darkened. “I wish you to leave her alone, Jarn.”
“If you are finished arguing,” Jylyj said from outside the side entry to the shelter, “we have been summoned to meet with the master hunter.”
If you’d like to read more, Crystal Healer, StarDoc book nine, can be ordered from B&N.com (who are also shipping it out early) here.
Tuesday, July 28th, 2009 by Joe Nassise
While doing some casual surfing the other day, I noticed that Tor UK was running a competition in partnership with SciFiNow.com to help some lucky winner get their first novel published. Even better, I noted that while it had originally been open only to writers in the UK, the contest had now been opened to writers anywhere in the world. The winner would receive a contract to publish their novel through Pan MacMillan Publishers Limited (Tor’s parent company) in 2010, schedule permitting.
MacMillan is an excellent company and the contest sounded pretty good – publication was with a major house with an excellent reputation, writers who’d had a full length novel published anywhere in the world were automatically excluded so that the competition wouldn’t be grossly tilted in one direction or another, and the genre was limited to fantasy or science fiction furthering shrinking the contestant pool. Nor was a full manuscript required for entry – all you needed was a synopsis and sample chapters.
I was all set to blog about the contest and tell my coaching clients to hurry up and enter before the August 20th deadline, when I noted the following:
“For the purposes of this competition we will pay the winning author a 20% royalty on net receipts but there will be no advance (i.e. an advance payment against future sales). Our contract is non-negotiable and we acquire world rights, with rights revenue split 50/50. We also reserve the option to publish the author’s second novel.”
Wait just a minute, Pan MacMillan! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bigger bait and switch routine in my entire life. You entice the unpublished author with the idea that they will get their book published by a reputable house, but then you offer terms that are the equivalent of highway robbery? Shame on you!
Let’s take them one at a time:
1) Royalty but no advance? Frankly, that’s crap. If the book is good enough to be published, the author should get something out of it besides the promise of possible royalties, particularly when how the book is marketed, promoted, and distributed is entirely out of their hands.
2) Non-negotiable contract? Come on, now. There is no way on earth I would ever enter into a contract that is completely non-negotiable. A contract is an agreement between two parties and should be written to fairly represent both sides. Allowing one party to cite the terms and telling the other party to take a hike is ridiculous. (And no, getting the book published is not a fair trade. If the book is good enough to be published, it can probably sell elsewhere. And with an advance, to boot!)
3) World rights? You aren’t willing to pay an advance, but you are snapping up 50% of the income the writer might make by selling the work in other territories? Sorry, but that’s adding insult to injury.
4) Option on the next book? Tell me, Pan MacMillan – does that option get exercised under the same contract terms? Or does the author then gain the right to a fair agreement, with an advance and a better subsidiary rights rate? At what point do you start acting as if the writer is someone you actually care about treating properly?
As you’ve no doubt guessed, I wouldn’t enter this contest to save my life. What you are getting just isn’t worth what you are giving up. There is a difference between being published and being published well – do not settle for the former at the expense of the later.
Monday, July 27th, 2009 by Carrie Vaughn
Just a note: I’m going to be taking over Mondays for Allison for a while.
I’m always working on something. Short story, novel, brainstorming, revising, whatever. No deadlines wait for the Muse, so write I must. It’s a truism of every working writer’s life.
I’ve had the following situation come up a couple of times now. Novel Project A has a deadline a year ahead, or perhaps no deadline at all because I’m writing it on spec or even (gasp) for the fun, to see what happens. Because between deadlines and contracts, I’m still writing. Suddenly, the contract comes through, or a project lands in my lap. The deadline for Novel Project B: six months from now. Yikes! So even thought Project A is halfway done and I’m really excited about it, I set it aside to work on Project B. I finish Project B, then return to Project A. At this point, Project A is 40,000 scattered words, and I may or may not remember what I was doing with them.
How do I regain lost momentum? How do I go back to living in that world? How fuzzy are my memories of what I wanted to have happen? How good are my notes? Do I remember the driving force that made me want to write the novel in the first place?
I’m about to go back to working on my second young adult novel, which is about 50,000 long and ¾ finished. I wrote most of it over the spring, set it aside to work on the next Kitty book, and now I’m picking it back up again. I haven’t looked at it since May, so I’m a little daunted. However, I’m also looking at this as an opportunity. Since it’s most of the way finished already, I can look at this as the first major revision and really come to the novel with fresh eyes. I’m thinking of changing the main character’s name and possibly her ethnicity. I’m going to finally figure out why one of the secondary characters is there. I’m going to make sure all the plot dominoes are set up the way they need to be, and that the threads that I’ve put in place are coming together.
I’m going to read over to the manuscript to remind myself of where I’m at. I’m going to take notes of what needs to be done still, of what I like and what I need to work on, and what questions I still need to research. I’m going to remind myself why I wanted to write this book in the first place and what got me excited about it. (Pirates! Sword fighting! Girls kicking ass!)
I’ve done this before, so I know I can. I just have to roll up my sleeves and do the work. I’m not going to see this as losing momentum, but as taking a valuable opportunity to step back from the work, look at it objectively, and then do everything I can to kick it to the next level.
Are you the kind of writer who has to finish one project before starting another? Have you had the dilemma of having to set something aside in the middle? How do you get back into it?
Sunday, July 26th, 2009 by Sasha White
Changes are coming
First off is our new look…what do you think of it?
Second, Alison Kent is going to take some time off from blogging with us here, as is Jason Pinter. As wonderful as these two are, we all know that writing is work, and work means we have to sacrifice things sometimes. As a fan of both of thier work, it’s okay with me if they take a break from blogging to catch up on actually writing a book or two. Have no fear though, both are still part of Genreality, as alternates.
With these two taking a break, we’ve changed out lineup a little. Carrie Vaughn will now be posting on Mondays, and we’re lining up Guest Bloggers for Wednesdays! Superagent Jenny Bent will be our first guest, on Wednesday August 5th. (Keep an eye on the right sidebar under Wednesdays for updates on Guest Appearances) If there’s anyone you’d love to see guest here, speak up, and I’ll see what we can make happen.
More News. the winner from my Thursday post GROWING is BABETTE!
Babette, just email me your snail mail information and I’ll get your signed copy of MOST WANTED to you.
Have a great Sunday everyone!
Friday, July 24th, 2009 by LViehl
Writers will do just about anything to improve a story, but we rarely give ourselves the same effort. I think this is because of something Edison (or someone of his importance said) about the body being simply a vehicle for the brain. While there will always be a few writers out there who are more in love with themselves than the work, the majority of us often neglect our spiritual and physical health.
I can’t say I’m an expert in writer fitness, but I’ve had to wrestle with a number of problems that have forced me to pay more attention to the state of my mind and body. Contrary to popular myth, a writer who is substance-dependent, locked away in a garden shed or otherwise writing in an unhealthy situation is not the ideal. To have a long and productive writing life, an intelligent writer needs to develop habits to keep body & mind active and healthy.
Here are ten ways I think you can improve your writing fitness (and please note that you should always check with your family doctor before making any changes in your diet or exercise regime):
1. Break blocks – plain and simple, if something is getting between you and the work you’re not going to be a happy writer. My method has always been to ignore anything that blocks me and write straight through it, at the same time giving myself permission to write complete garbage. I’ve learned that eventually the block shrivels up and dies and the sheer act of writing even nonsense eventually gets me back on track so that I do produce quality material.
2. Boost nutrition – as a writer you really are what you eat; if you’re snacking on sugary junk or chugging energy drinks while you’re working you’re probably not doing your brain any favors. I am a potato chip fiend, but I traded in my Lays and Ruffles for rice cakes and multi-grain crackers, and to be honest I don’t miss them anymore. If you wean yourself off energy or high-calorie drinks and try alternatives like flavored water or a low-calorie non-carbonated drink you can avoid the sugar crashes. I only drink water or tea, but a few years ago I tried Crystal Light drink mix and fell in love with it. It adds almost no calories to my water, and the variety of flavors keeps me from getting bored.
3. Eliminate Distraction – there are some writers who claim they can work fine in the midst of noise and chaos; I am not one of them. I don’t need absolute silence to write, but I prefer a quiet corner where I can concentrate. Removing all the phones, televisions, radios and other noise-makers from my writing space gave me the distraction-free zone I needed. I’ve also taught my family to respect my writing time and, unless there’s a emergency, not to interrupt me when I’m working. On my part, I’ve arranged my work hours so that I am usually writing when they’re at work or school or otherwise occupied.
4. Equip yourself – my first two published novels were printed out on a dot-matrix printer that took twelve hours to produce a full manuscript. Needless to say one of the first purchases I made after I turned pro was to buy a better printer. I’ve also made sure to set aside enough of my income every year since then to update or replace my equipment as needed. I think one of the biggest heartbreaks for a writer is losing work to equipment failure, so when you can afford to, invest in the hardware you need to get the job done.
5. Fight fatigue – it seems that there just aren’t enough hours in the day anymore to get everything done, and if you’re working a day job and taking care of a family and trying to write, you’re probably also fighting constant fatigue. After spending too many years trying to do everything and not getting anything done, and barely sleeping a few hours a night, I began planning and working according to a weekly schedule. This helped me to stop overloading myself and set a reasonable amount of work to do each day that I knew I could accomplish. This actually helped me become more productive and gave me a lot more free time than I’d ever had when I was trying to do everything without a schedule.
6. Idealize space – I was raised in a cluttered household (my mom is a pack rat of the first order) and I grew up hating it. Since I had never been taught to unclutter my spaces, I might have ended up becoming a pack rat, too. Fortunately military service taught me the value of keeping work and living spaces uncluttered and organized. While I might have to resist the urge now and then to alphabetize the canned goods, I appreciate the pleasure of having a home and home office that is clean, organized and provides plenty of room to do whatever I like. One habit I have to keep clutter at bay is to focus on a different room every day versus trying to clean up my entire house all at once. Anyone can tidy one room at a time, and by doing so on a regular rotating basis you can always have a clean house.
7. Lighten up – I never knew how much effect lighting had on me and my writing until my optometrist told me the headaches I was suffering were produced by eyestrain from working in inadequate lighting. I still didn’t believe him until I changed the lighting in my office and the headaches went away. Lately the reverse has been happening; I’ve been suffering eyestrain from the glare of my computer monitor, which I had to adjust a few times before I found the right setting. You really need to experiment with the lighting in your work space before you’ll find the right way to illuminate it, but once you get it to optimum work levels you’ll be surprised how much difference it makes.
8. Manage stress – another major threat to writer fitness, stress comes from all directions and in innumerable forms. I don’t think we can ever eliminate stress entirely from our lives, but we can manage it better. I’ve learned to cut off stress at the source, such as unplugging from the internet for a few days, skipping a chapter I’m having problems writing, or taking an hour to do some sewing (art and hobbies are great all purpose stress-relievers.) When the stress is emotional, I spend time working in the garden, taking walks, or doing other things that combine exercise with enjoyment. Even a long bubble bath can soak up a lot of stress.
9. Prevent injury – because writers are sedentary creatures, we run the risk of acquiring a variety of job-related injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and muscle strain. Not a week goes by that I don’t aggravate a sensitive nerve in my neck by sitting too long in one position. Taking breaks from the keyboard to get up and stretch, walk around, and doing some simple exercises can be helpful in avoiding injury and also giving your mind a brief mental break.
10. Reward effort – payment for the work most writers do is rarely regular or constant, and because we can’t pick up a check at the end of week like other workers it can often make us feel depressed. Effort needs to be rewarded, so if there isn’t a paycheck waiting for you at the end of the week of writing, you might try giving yourself one in the form of a reward. This doesn’t have to be money or even anything that costs it; you simply plan to make the time to do something nice for yourself. I often let myself watch a movie or listen to a CD as a reward for getting all my work done for the week; tonight I have the movie Push waiting by the DVD player for when I finish up.
If your writing fitness needs some attention, don’t try to make too many changes at once. Pick one area in your writing life that you’d like to improve and focus on that until you find the right solution, and then move on to the next problem area. I recommend starting a writing fitness journal where you can record what you’re doing, how it’s working, and come up with new ideas on how you can get your writing life in shape.
Do you have a habit or method that’s helped you with your writing life? Let us know in comments.